Dignity, but not in a good cause
I concede to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on all issues related to the procedures regarding American service people killed in action and how to handle condolence calls, presidential or other. If he thinks it is appropriate to mention that a dead soldier knew what he was getting into, so be it. He definitely knows better than I do.
But at about 7 minutes 20 seconds of this video, the dignified Kelly leaves his own area of expertise and goes political, criticizing a member of Congress and giving us a strong whiff of his own radical and reactionary views on American politics. I see no need to concede anything to him on that.
Kelly’s first excursion from things he knows about was a broadside against Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) for listening in on the phone call. He simply ignored the factual circumstances: she happened to be in the family’s car when President Trump’s call was received. She was also a mentor to La David Johnson, the soldier killed, since his childhood. These were well-known facts when Kelly made his statement, so he chose to ignore them.
Then he waxes nostalgic: he bemoans the fact that women, the dignity of life, religion, and Gold Star families are no longer sacred. Women have appropriately asked when was that? When we weren’t allowed to become lawyers and doctors? When we were expected, no matter what our individual talents, to marry and stay home with children? The “dignity of life” is code for Kelly’s anti-abortion views, to which he is entitled. But they are distinctly political views that have nothing to do with the case at hand.
Kelly’s concern that “religion” is no longer sacred I find hard to fathom. Americans are a good deal more religious than their counterparts in other countries. It is true that anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric and crime has increased, but somehow I don’t think that was what Kelly meant. He presumably was referring to the acceptance of things like same-sex marriage. As for Gold Star families, Kelly was clearly referring to Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last year. That was for me a highlight: yes political, but appropriately so, in an appropriate circumstance. Mr. Khan is entitled to speak out for a candidate he favors and against one he opposes.
After this excursion into things once “sacred,” Kelly goes full-bore against Congresswoman Wilson, though he never names her. He calls her an “empty barrel” for allegedly bragging at the dedication of an FBI building to agents killed in service that she had been responsible for the necessary funding. This ad hominem attack is entirely inappropriate. As the Congresswoman is black, “empty barrel” will be heard by many as a gratuitous racial slur.
In the Q and A with the press, Kelly says he will take questions only from people who know a Gold Star family. That I interpret as code for wanting questions only from friendly forces, but of course there are lots of more liberal journalists who know Gold Star families as well. He then avoids answering the question why the troops killed in Niger were there. Instead he refers to an investigation into the precise circumstances of their deaths. That is not what the correspondent asked. Inability of a top administration official to explain why the troops were in Niger and what they were doing is appalling.
Kelly serves a president who avoided military service, by his own admission assaulted women, switched from pro-choice not long ago, shows not a trace of interest in religious devotion, gleefully accepts the support and counsel of white supremacists (aka racists), and has lied about what he said on the phone call in question. How does Kelly get up in the morning and put on all that dignity to serve such an unworthy master?
PS: So it turns out, Kelly was not telling the truth about what Wilson said at the FBI building dedication. The video shows she bragged about getting the building named quickly after the courageous fallen FBI agents, not about the funding. She paid ample attention to the fallen FBI agents and their courage, as well as to the courage of the law enforcement agents in the audience. Even those with dignity in this administration are unable to tell the truth.
PPS: Here now is the video of the relevant portion of Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at the 2015 FBI dedication. No surprise. Kelly lied: